It only took a few minutes for several of Kmart’s online audience members to share their thoughts about the retailer’s decision to forgo a Thanksgiving closure and instead stay open for a 41-hour stretch that includes Thanksgiving Day and the day after.
It will take Kmart a while longer to reverse or correct a potential PR crisis, and to preserve their reputation with online audiences.
Recently Kmart announced it would be open to shoppers bright and early at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving. It has been called out across social media with terms including “heartless” by employees and customers who are requesting that employees be given a chance to have family time over the holiday. In fact, shoppers grouped together on social media and suggested a store boycott unless the hours of operation were changed. Kmart is holding its ground, saying with a statement that it would fill work slots over the period with “volunteers” or employees who have been hired on a seasonal basis.
What’s the takeaway?
- Customers can (and do) join forces together on social media, and this can escalate very quickly, when they feel a sense of strong emotion toward an event or a situation. Be ready across your business to give your online reputation management some clear and focused attention before, during and after a situation like this. A public relations professional is trained in the types of messages and responses that can guide and steer the conversation, rather than leave you in reactionary mode.
- Having strong search engine rankings isn’t the same as managing your online reputation. Kmart is being called names like “morally bankrupt” as part of consumer online response. While a Kmart product or sale may pop up to the top of a Google holiday search, achieving valuable online reputation gains comes from smart PR involvement using tools like earned media coverage. When quality earned news has been achieved throughout the year, and the relationships are solid with editors and reporters, a potential online crisis like this can be more swiftly and effectively handled (or averted).
- Kmart’s response also included notes about their decision to remain open reflecting the wishes of their shoppers. In this particular moment, their shoppers want to be heard and acknowledged first – so a better response may include more statements about how they can see their consumers’ perspective. Perhaps they could say that they, too, as a former family business (Sears as the parent company), value family; and that seasonal employees often willingly sign up for working holiday shifts to earn much-needed income for their families.
The good news is that there’s room here across this 41-hour stretch for Kmart to make amends and direct a new story for their brand, with the help of some smart, savvy PR. (For example, releasing facts about national job impact or sharing a story of how an employee gets a rush out of helping customers during a zany holiday sale).
Have you found yourself in an image crunch that is moving fast and came as a surprise? Contact Axia Public Relations today. We can get a lot done in terms of repairing your online reputation, and still be home for dinner.
by Jason Mudd, APR
Jason Mudd, APR, is the CEO of Axia Public Relations and an Emmy-Award-winning accredited public relations practitioner, speaker, author and entrepreneur. His public relations portfolio includes work for established national and emerging brands such as American Airlines, Dave & Buster’s, Brightway Insurance, Florida Blue, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Ray Charles and Verizon.